Note: This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.
Material Issue arrived on the scene at a time when being a power pop band from Chicago was a two-headed curse that had already afflicted promising acts like Shoes, The Elvis Brothers, and Off Broadway. Still, The Ish’s 1991 debut, International Pop Overthrow flashed a cocky attitude that shoved regional discrimination aside in its mission to present energetic songs with unforgettable hooks and harmony vocals. The album became the pop heard ‘round the world, as Material Issue, along with Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, and Urge Overkill suddenly made Chicago a hotbed for new music. It also didn’t hurt that Material Issue had a batch of trendy video clips in heavy rotation at MTV.
The recently released International Pop Overthrow 20th Anniversary Edition highlights the staying power of lead vocalist-guitarist Jim Ellison’s songwriting ability, and the memorable songs he created with bassist Ted Ansani and drummer Mike Zelenko. The original album opened with a trio of surefire hits. The mid-tempo “Valerie Loves Me” personified unrequited love with its jarring and desperate chorus; “Diane” was a high energy satire on celebutants long before the days of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton; and “Renee Remains The Same” used a revved-up Hollies style arrangement to depict a woman still reliving her high school era triumphs.
Ellison pretty much concentrated on affairs of the heart, but approached the topic from various directions and filled his songs with believable characters whose emotions were readily recognizable. On International Pop Overthrow, his lyrics ranged from the unbridled excitement of “Crazy,” which depicted a guy telling his buddies about a new girlfriend, to the bitter “Chance Of A Lifetime,” with its sneering lines like, “Don’t go pushing me, baby” and “I’d rather die than compromise.” Ellison also tackled the issue of crime and punishment on hard rocking "Trouble," while the title track was a declaration of musical independence that evoked The Ramones.
The bonus material on the 20th Anniversary Edition includes rarities like “Sixteen Tambourines,” the previously unreleased “The Girl With The Saddest Eyes,” and covers of songs that surely inspired Ellison’s songwriting. He captured Phil Lynott’s distinctive delivery on Thin Lizzy’s western epic, “Cowboy,” and had a ball doing the comic voices on Sweet’s rousing “Blockbuster.” There’s also a manic version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” that was taken from a live performance. Even with the additional tracks, International Pop Overthrow remains a flawless collection of power pop.